Thursday, 31 March 2011

Will becoming an Academy save your school from cuts?

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One of the only arguments being put for schools becoming an Academy is that they will get more money, and it will protect them from cuts and job losses.

In fact a number of Academies are already making cuts, and more are expected to follow.

Waterhead Academy in Oldham only opened in September, but already faces a ‘significant’ funding shortfall. The Head has told staff that there will be redundancies. There are rumours of significant job losses.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Garstang Courier - High School in Academy Move

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Article reprinted with kind permission from The Garstang Courier  
(published 28/03/2011)

GOVERNORS at Garstang High School are consulting over converting to an academy.

The switch could see the school opt out of local authority control and would give governors and the headteacher greater power to manage their own budget, buy in services, set the curriculum and even vary the length of the school day.

Letters have been sent out to parents outlining the process and staff and pupils have been briefed.

Headteacher Phil Birch says that no decision on whether to go ahead with the move will be made until the end of the consultation process, which is expected to be complete by early June.

And chair of governors Tom Ibison says they want the wider Garstang community to also have their say, as the decision could affect not just the current but also future generations of pupils and parents.

After being rated as a “good school with outstanding features” in their most recent Ofsted inspection, Garstang High was invited by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove to consider applying for academy status.

And Mr Birch revealed that a tough new funding formula, which he says has left Garstang High facing some stark financial difficulties, had been the ‘catalyst’ for the decision to look into academy status.

“We can’t run on thin air” said Mr Birch. “Historically, this school has suffered through a lack of funds, but the new funding formula disadvantages us even more.”

Mr Birch says the new arrangements from the Local Education Authority would leave Garstang £1,000 per pupil worse off than the average school, and he warned that teaching jobs and the “future success of the school” could be put at risk.

Mr Ibison described the ability to manage their own budget as ‘getting back what is ours’ and said the extra money - which is currently held by the LEA for central services shared by all schools - would allow the school to develop and improve.

He added that the governors are charged with running the school as effectively as possible and they were ‘duty bound’ to consider the academy option in the best interests of the pupils, staff and the entire Garstang community.

But he stressed that no commitment had been made and nothing was binding at this time.

Mr Birch added that both he and the governors had many more questions to be answered about the academy move before they would be completely happy with the idea, although he believed the new status would provide “new opportunities that would benefit the school.’’

He pointed out that other secondary schools in the area were also looking at academy status and it could mean Garstang tapping into a new local ‘academy network’ of outstanding schools, sharing expertise and ideas.

Mr Birch also said the freedom to look at the curriculum would allow them to tailor the timetable and subjects to better reflect the needs of the students and the local job market.

He said that the move to academy status would not mean a complete break with the LEA, as the school may continue to buy-in certain services while the LEA would still look after key statutory services including special needs statementing and child protection.

Mr Ibison pledged the school would not start selecting pupils according to aptitude, saying it was their intention to maintain it as a ‘community school for all’ in Garstang, and said that all the existing terms and conditions of staff would be maintained.

The academy schools programme has proved controversial, with critics of the policy - including the main teaching unions - warning that weakening the role of local authorities will mean that some children, especially the most disadvantaged, could lose out. Local education authorities would also be left without the capacity to intervene if problems appear in local school provision, while opponents claim the academies will create a ‘two-tier’ education system.

Mr Birch said he recognised the issues, saying: “I am concerned because my staff are concerned about the possible changes, which is understandable when you are possibly changing employer, but I think the only change they would really notice would be fewer cuts.’’

Anyone who would like to contact the headteacher or governors to express their views on the academy conversion can do so via the links on the school website at, or by writing to them at: Garstang High School, Bowgreave, Garstang, PR3 1YE.

Academy Funding - 2011/12

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1. The Department for Education has consulted local authorities,
academies, schools representatives and other partners on academy funding
for 2011-12 via the Academy Funding Sub-Group of the School Funding
Implementation Group. We have also taken into account views expressed on
the School Funding 2011-12 consultation paper in reaching our conclusions.

2. We have decided to retain for 2011-12 the current methodology for
allocating the Dedicated Schools Grant. Therefore, we will retain the
replication methodology for calculating academy budgets for a further year.

3. In the longer term, our intention is to develop a simpler and more
transparent funding system which helps to reduce the funding differences
between similar schools in different areas. We are clear that becoming an
academy should not bring about a financial advantage or disadvantage to a
school but rather, enable academies to have greater freedom over how they
use their budgets. We will continue to work with key external partners to
consider how best to bring this about.

Read the Rest

Related Papers

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Why Become An Academy School?

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The previous post showed that, in the short term at least, there IS a strong financial incentive for schools to convert now: that is, before funding arrangements are equalised across the education sector. Here, a headteacher considers some of those and other issues involved for the benefit of parents.
Read the full article here.


A number of parents have enquired, through this blog, about our thoughts around the DfE’s offer to become an academy. The conversion to an academy school, even with sweeping changes made by the new government, remains a complex process. Both in terms of legislation and philosophy it is not a move that should be taken lightly or without due consideration. Recent weeks have seen a very rapid series of changes implemented by the Department for Education and the offer to allow outstanding schools such as ours the opportunity to become academies is at the forefront of these changes.

Why become an academy school?
There is more power to innovate within the current curricular and statutory guidance than many school leaders realise: 95% of the requests to innovate made of the department over the past three years have addressed powers already possessed by schools. This is even more the case for outstanding schools, for whom the OfSTED inspection framework gives even greater latitude to explore creative ways to drive standards higher.

So, despite the rhetoric, the main drive for moving towards academy status is not greater curricular freedom. We already have most of the curricular freedom that we want. That leaves us two other main differences that academy status affords, one of which has some appeal, the other probably less so: funding and admissions.

The Local Authority keeps something in the region of 10% of schools’ funding to pay for centralised services. By becoming an academy we would receive funds directly from the department and so would retain that extra 10%. Our financial consultant advises us that we would gain around £400,000 per year. Initially this seems very attractive: it equates to about 14 new teachers or 28 new teaching assistants, nearly one extra adult per class however you implemented it.

Nevertheless, there are issues to be considered. Services which are currently centralised, such as educational welfare officers, educational psychologists, human resources and so on would need to be paid for from our 10% new funding. Although competition in this regard would be very healthy (and exists already), if many schools in a region become academies then it is possible that Local Authorities simply will not be able to provide the services currently available because staff will have been lost as a result of all the academies’ 10% funding withdrawal.

The Local Authority would also cease to be the employer of staff here and this would need to be undertaken by the governors through an academy trust. This trust would need to appoint a governing body to manage the academy, as well as co-ordinate either the transfer of the land on which the school is sited, or to enter into a 125 year lease with the Local Authority. The current wave of new academies receive £25k from the government towards the costs of these changes, although total costs may be more like £50 – 70k. It is not certain if this initial £25k will still be on offer for later academy conversions. The role as employer will not be easy. An academy would not have to participate in national wage agreements and this would cause high levels of anxiety amongst staff’s professional associations such as the NUT, NASUWT etc. Of particular concern to these associations is the possible future reduction in pension contributions that an academy employer might make, so any re-negotiation of the terms of employment by governors of the academy trust will be hard won.

That said, in schools we have had 10 years of unprecedented funding. It is unlikely that we will see similar funding within the careers of our current teachers. This is why we have been able to employ so many teaching assistants, create new buildings, buy new technology and create new facilities. We are in a very different place now, with a much more bleak budgetary future and our expectations need to be managed accordingly.

Therefore, seizing control of what amounts to a 10% slice of our budget is very appealing and would safeguard many of the aspects of our school life that we value, such as our ability to keep investing, pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve for our children and innovating in our relentless pursuit of excellence.

Furthermore, we manage our finances very well for current spend and future plans, but each year we operate under threat of having some of our surplus balances ‘clawed back’ by the Local Authority if they are above a small percentage figure of our overall budget. Academy status would prevent this distorting action on our long term financial plans. However, it should be noted that if the new financial year brings further cuts to schools’ budgets, then the 10% may increasingly become a means to simply maintaining the status quo. This is obviously not a bad thing, but it is a different understanding of what we may have to use the 10% to achieve.

Admissions would change too, with academy status, as the school would become its own admitting authority. In comparison to the financial issues of academy status, this aspect has received less attention, however, it is equally important. The school could establish its own admissions criteria, much as foundation schools do currently and admit children on this basis. However the administration and appeals process would again have to be managed by the trust and governors, rather than by the Local Authority. This is a return to how we used to operate as up until 2 years ago we managed the administration of admissions rather than it being handled by central services at the LA. However, administrative changes are procedural and do not change admissions criteria. Becoming an academy would allow the school to reconsider and set new admissions criteria and many parents and prospective parents would have very strong views on any proposed changes such a trust would make in this regard.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Academy Funding

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It has been stated that "there should be no financial advantage or disadvantage for a school converting to academy status."

It is difficult to square this statement with the following information taken from a consultation document prepared by Preston Business and Enterprise College in Somerset.

I include THIS LINK to their full consultation outline document which is very instructive and seems to me to be exemplary in its approach.


Funding is payable by the Secretary of State

Academies receive the same funding as maintained schools with the additional funding for services that the LA would have provided – it is clear however that there is currently a financial incentive to convert now and the quicker the conversion the greater the financial gain

A school converting on or before 1st August will receive additional funding of £539 per student, based upon current student numbers the school would receive an additional £506,121 per annum.

A school converting on or after the 1st September will receive additional funding of £239 per student

Initial indications are that the funding difference will reduce over time, we are still waiting for exact details although initial enquiries suggest a drop of between 10-20% in the second year

An additional £25,000 grant is payable to support the school's conversion to an Academy

The introduction of a new national funding arrangement is expected for 2014/15, I would anticipated parity for all Academies as an outcome of this process

All costs associated with running the school become the responsibility of the Academy Trust – increased liabilities include maternity leave, redundancy costs, pension provision, legal costs, insurance and indemnity requirements.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Scottish MSP's call for greater head teacher autonomy.

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A report from an education committee consisting of members of the Scottish parliament has rejected reforms such as the English academy programme, the USA charter schools or the Swedish free schools movements, while suggesting that heads should be given greater freedoms.

Read the Article


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The impetus to save money by the reform of publicly funded bodies hides, in my view, the ideological drive of this government to use the rhetoric of deficit reduction to drive through massive privatisation of public services including education.

The widening of the academies programme, from its initial aim of bootstrapping failing schools, to the ‘offer’ that all schools should now convert to academies is strengthened by the demands of the Education Bill that all new school commissions must preference academy or free school status before grant maintained schools.

This involves a massive centralisation, contrary, it seems to me, to the notions contained in the Localism Bill and the ideas behind the ‘Big Society’.

As evidence, I cite the many public bodies that are to be axed whose functions will be subsumed within the relevant state departments. A large number of these specialist bodies contain highly skilled staff whose duty it is to support, promote and maintain education standards.

The list of public bodies to be axed includes:

General Teaching Coucil for England
HM Chief Inspector of Education, Childrens Services and Skills (Ofsted)
Office of Qualifications and Examination Regulation (Ofqual)
Pensions Regulator
School Support Staff Negotiating Body
School Teachers Review Body
Training and Development Agency for Schools
Young Peoples Learning Agency for England
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
Charity Commission for England and Wales
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Health and Safety Exutive

Edit:  I forgot the Audit Commission in that list.  The body that looks at the spend of £180bn of public monies every year.  They're going too.

Consulting the Oracle

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In which the BBC's James Silver queries Secretary of State Michael Gove about his views on what consultation should consist of in terms of schools becoming academies.

James Silver: "We asked the Secretary of State whether it was acceptable that publicly owned assests like schools should be handed over without full consultation with parents and the wider community."

Michael Gove: "The assets remain public assets, the schools remain state schools. No one is discriminated against by the school becoming an academy."

James Silver: "But they’re breaking free from the local authortiy, in that sense, they’re breaking free, (as many parents would have it), from the community."

Michael Gove: "So far I’ve been struck by the fact that most of those people who’ve been opposed to schools becoming academies tend to be people with political links of one kind or another. They may be predisposed not to like the government’s policies – that’s fair enough, it’s a democracy…people can take different views. What’s striking is that you actually have parent groups springing up demanding that schools become an academy.

James Silver: "But what constitutes, in your view, a proper consultation process – should parents be consulted, is just writing a letter to parents enough?"

Michael Gove: "I think the consultation process should really be for the head and the governors to decide themselves."

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Money driving many schools to become academies.

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A report by Katherine Sellgren from the ASCL conference in Manchester.

"A poll of 1,471 heads by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found nearly half (46%) had converted to academy status or intended to do so." 

Read the Article

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Education Bill - Committee Stage - Evidence Session 1/3/11

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Evidence from: 
Independent Academies Association, Harris Federation, Cuckoo Hall Primary School and Richard Rose Federation of Academies
Association of Schools and College Leaders and NAHT Local Government Association,
Association of Directors of Children’s Services and David Smellie (employment lawyer)


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Who Owns English Schools?

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BBC Radio 4 - The Report - A 30 minute radio documentary looking at the academies program.

Listen Online

"The Government wants all schools in England to become academies: state-funded but independent of local authority control. In the summer, Education Secretary Michael Gove predicted that more than 1,000 schools would opt for the new academy status. Four months on, there are fewer than 100 new academies. Some headteachers are now locked in dispute with trade unions - and even parents - over plans to convert their schools. Is the Government's flagship education initiative in danger of stalling? Reporter James Silver reports from the education front-line on the latest Government drive to turn all local authority-managed schools into free-standing academies. And he asks who will be the winners and losers as the policy goes ahead."

The Education Bill

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The Education Bill goes to Committee Stage once more in the House of Commons tomorrow [10 March 2011] in Committee Room 9 at 9am..  Many parts of the bill deal with academies. You can watch this committee meeting live online and possibly on TV on Parliament Channel.

The education journalist Fiona Millar writes this about the bill.........

"If a new school is needed, academy/free school bids must be prioritised before any other type of school can be considered, the Secretary of State will decide who runs it, local authorities are frozen out of the process and new maintained schools will be almost impossible to achieve.

The government is also to give itself powers to transfer land directly to free schools, the requirement for locally established admissions forums is to be ditched, at a time when there may be an explosion of autonomous schools, the Schools Adjudicator will no longer be able to require schools to change illegal entry criteria and parents will no long be able to complain to the local government ombudsman.

Translated into everyday life these changes mean that, far from having choice, parents will have a very limited menu; an academy, or an academy called a free school; no say in who runs it; no local scrutiny of how it manipulates its admissions and no meaningful role for the local authority in planning places to meet local needs.

In a sense it is encouraging that the take up of academies and free schools has been so sluggish that the financial carrot has now been replaced by a big stick. But these clauses, alongside the changes to the teaching workforce, and the curriculum, represent a massive power, and land, grab away from local communities and to central government, for which there is no mandate."
(Read The Rest of this Article)

Monday, 7 March 2011


Introduction & Posting Guidelines - Please read first.

In December 2010 Lord Hill, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, wrote to all potential academies with some views concerning union involvement and the TUPE - (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, in the decision to become an academy.

This letter is linked to here for reference.

Together with a link here to a response from the NASUWT.

Both letters speak for themselves.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Governor's Letter

Mr Ibison's letter of 28th Febuary sets out four advantages that Academy status would bestow. 

I responded with a list of questions that I assume many will be asking.  See below.

I will post any response here.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that I don't understand why Garstang would join in with this goverments dismantling of the state education system for so little gain. 

I don't share this vision: whatever it is...someone will have to show it to me.

The school web page kicks off with the words "Our Shared Vision."  Well, I hope they will live up to that.

Here are the questions I put:

Who are the proposed sponsors of GHS Academy status?

What is the proposed timeline envisaged in proceeding towards Academy status?

Which key stakeholder groups are involved in the consultation process? What consultation meetings, with what groups, have taken place thus far, and what further meetings are planned? Are the minutes of any such meetings that have taken place between governors, stakeholders or the LEA available? Are any meetings of the staff, or the parents/guardians of pupils planned in order to discuss the proposal?

Please quantify the monies spent by the LA on GHS’s behalf in the last financial year, indicating on what those monies were spent? Please could you also outline the present budgetary position and how you envisage a change to Academy status affecting that position.
    How will staff terms and conditions be protected in the event of centralised cuts to school budgets being imposed by government/s in the future? Will staff remuneration track increases in nationally negotiated agreements under Academy status?

    On transfer to Academy status, will GHS become a charity or a limited company or a trust or some other legal entity?

    Will any current rules relating to SEN admissions, exclusions, staff, the composition of the governing body or any other existing rules be written into the proposed Academy agreement?

    Under Academy status, what will be the arrangements for either parents or pupils to challenge or complain about the functioning of the school, or other matters currently dealt with by the LEA and/or the courts? How will independent abitration of disputes be managed?

    May I also invite you to share your vision for the future for Garstang High School at a website I have created for that purpose. The web address is:

    I would also be very grateful if you could, through the school, issue notification of this facility to all parents, guardians and teachers at the school so that as many as possible can share their views and join in the debate.

    Thank you etc etc...............

    Saturday, 5 March 2011


    Dear All

    Notification of the intention of the Governors of Garstang High School to proceed towards Academy status has been given.

    This has profound implications for all the pupils, parents, teachers, governors, ancilliary staff: in fact, for the whole community. There are bound to be many questions you would like to ask about it.

    As this decision is irreversible - there is no route back once an Acedemy Order has been issued by the Secretary of State - it is vitally important that all parties are fully involved in an open, transparent and democratic consultation process where all the pros and cons may be FULLY scrutinised and any subsequent decisions owned by all of us.

    In order to facilitate this, I have set up this web page giving information about Academy status and offering the opportunity for ALL, whether pro or anti Academy, to engage in a full and frank debate about the issues. The site includes links to the Academies Act 2010, articles and other relevant information.

    Submissions to the site are welcome from BOTH sides of the debate and comments will be open for everyone to make or just to read. Comments are moderated before publication so please don't worry if they don't appear immediately. Anonymous comments are  permitted.

    Please make comments that are, as far as possible, reasoned and evidence based.  Innapropriate language or comments attacking a person rather than an argument (ad hominem) will not be permitted.

    Comments from pupils are also welcome, but the spelling better be good!

    To comment on any post just click on 'comment' at the foot of each post. To submit a post for inclusion on the page please e-mail it to It is the responsibilty of the poster to obtain any copyright clearances necessary.

    Thank you for visiting.  I look forward to hearing your views.

    Maurice Pennance - Parent